I write as a retired broadcast news executive and corporate communications officer — one who is getting more and more comfortable watching and reading the news to find out “What’s new?” every day. Often every hour.
I don’t envy anyone in the craft having to cover COVID-19. As my writing mentor Merv Block (CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite) taught me, “News is what’s new.” And there is sure a lot of “new” in coverage. But do we need so many “BREAKING NEWS!” types of teases and headlines?
I’m actually very content with the coverage by local outlets like The Times. The same goes for area broadcast media. You all live and work in the communities you serve. We see each other at the grocery store. The accountability level is high.
I’m not as sanguine about the traditional and cable outlets. The folks in New York and Washington, D.C. Yes, they are going nonstop, but at least to me, hype seems to trump “what’s new.” The politics of it all really leaps off the screen and page in the evenings. So much opinion. Blah blah blah. At least we’ve been spared the plague of political pundits in recent days!
In his legendary 1958 speech to the Radio-Televison-News Directors Association, (of which I served four elected terms to the Board of Directors) Ed Murrow talked about this new thing called television. He closed saying, “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.”
Impactful then. More so today. The box of course is now a digital one.
The best description of a journalist I’ve ever heard came from Paul Harvey, speaking as Ed did to RTNDA. He told us gathered that evening that we are “Future Shock - Shock Absorbers.” Delivered of course in that remarkable speaking cadence of his. You could hear a pin drop in the room full of broadcast news executives.
Events in the coming days, weeks and months will require a lot of shock absorption. We as viewers and readers should always be skeptical. Always consider the source. Seek out a variety of news outlets and draw your own conclusions.
Merv Block also taught me a viewer’s perception is their reality. Think about that.
OK, I’m done. Going to read the newspaper now.